The Basement opened the night at the Firebird with a 30 minute set of pop-punk that aimed for Rancid but ended up at Green Day. The vocals were in the Tim Armstrong/Lars Frederiksen wheelhouse; they weren't half bad. The guitar sounded great and their rhythm section propelled the songs along fairly well.
The set was not without problems. I don't know if they were having an off night, but there seemed to be a lot of issues with forgotten lyrics and songs abruptly ending in trainwrecks. There were enough clunky endings that D.R.I. bassist Harald Oimoen shouted some advice from the merch booth in the form of "Work on your endings, guys!"
My main complaint was that the whole "punk" schtick was not coming across the way I think the band thought it was. Being a punk is more than buying some Manic Panic and a denim vest and saying "fuck" every other word. I don't remember Dez Cadena or Glenn Danzig explain away forgotten lyrics or sloppy endings by saying "I forgot the lyrics. So what? This is punk rock." If you have to tell someone that you're a punk, you aren't a punk.
I know I'm coming across a bit harsh here, but my point is this: Don't try to mimic other bands or copy styles. Find your own thing and do it. There is nothing more punk than making your own path, so blaze that trail instead of trying to copy someone else. The effort is well worth the payoff in the long run.
Next to hit the stage was ThorHammer, and hit the stage they did. ThorHammer is one of those bands I want to hate because they play lightning-fast, complex riffs so effortlessly that I feel like a lesser primate when I pick up my guitar. However, once the riffer madness starts, I can't help but love what I'm hearing.
The band's entire set was loud heavy riffs and wailing leads underpinned by a rhythm section well-versed in laying down slabs of rock. Everyone was playing double-time without hiding sloppy playing behind mountains of distortion or overly high volume. They almost sounded like an over-caffeinated Exodus.
When I lived in New Jersey, I had this neighbor with a Pomeranian that would chase the neighborhood cats all over the street yelping and growling. That dog was a bad ass and was nothing to mess with, much like the vocals that were being shouted out over the music. The vocals were perfectly matched to the music and sounded great. The drummer looked like Gandalf beating the hell out of his kit, and there is nothing more suited to metal than a wizard, right?
While I was doing some research after the show, I read that this was the last show with this lineup and that two members were leaving. This was my first time seeing ThorHammer, and I sincerely hope they find new members to fill the vacant spots. Their set tonight was a prime example of how good metal should be played.
Cross Examination only played a total of about 20 minutes, but they were the most fun 20 minutes of the entire evening. The last thing I expected to see was an act that seemed more grindcore than thrash and didn't apologize for a damn second of it. The music reminded me a little of Discordance Axis, without the douchebag pompousness. The liner notes from DA's Jouhou album made me want to punch them in the throat. Cross Examination's vibe made me want to buy them beer.
Daniel Hill spent his time shouting out lyrics, chilling against Leon's amp drinking a beer, stomping around the stage fist fighting with the invisible man or a combination of the above. The guitarists spent all night riffing away like there was no tomorrow, playing some of the fastest runs I've seen in a long time. The drums and bass were also pushing some air around, keeping up with the guitars with ease. This was my first time catching Cross Examination, but I can guarantee it won't be my last.
D.R.I. Took a few minutes to set up and get everything ready to go. Much of this time bassist Harald Oimoen was joking with the crowd or playing snippets of rock tunes, such as the bass line from Rush's "YYZ." Guitarist Spike Cassidy looked more like middle management than a thrash metal god as he got his equipment up and running. Drummer Rob Rampy was composed and relaxed as he adjusted his kit and hung the band's banner behind his setup.
As soon as the band ripped into "The Application" from their 1992 album "Definition" I knew that the band hadn't lost a bit of the speed or power they had when they started playing shows in 1982. The second vocalist Kurt Brecht started to bark out the lyrics I was immediately transported back to 1993, about 10 minutes after my shift at Music Biz ended and I threw my newly purchased copy of "Definition" in my Discman. I was more than a little surprised, and delighted, to find that Kurt's voice hadn't degraded or changed in the slightest.
D.R.I. was one of the first bands to meld hardcore punk and thrash metal into crossover thrash, which drew fans both genres equally. Tonight they sounded like they did in their prime. The metal riffs were pure dynamite, the breakdowns were perfectly timed, and the drums were tight and faster than Michael Johnson.
Rob Rampy was just as composed during the set as he was before he started playing, his arms a blur as he thrashed his kit. Harald Oimoen spent the entire set joking with fans, head-butting his microphone, and generally acting like a kid with inattentive parents at Toys-R-Us while his hands played the songs as if they were on auto-pilot. Kurt's vocals sounded like a reciprocating saw cutting through rusted sheet metal. I don't think there was a second during the entire show that Spike didn't have an ear to ear grin on his face while riffing or making his guitar squeal.
The band ran through a set list that spanned their entire discography as well as a new track, titled "As Seen on TV." Some of my favorite tunes were "Dead in a Ditch," "Suit and Tie Guy," and the final song of the encore, crowd favorite "Five Year Plan." The only way I would have been more pleased is if they had also played "Dry Heaves."
On his website, Spike Cassidy said that D.R.I. doesn't need to record. The fans want to hear what they've already written and keep supporting them. Although I would like to see more material from the band, I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment. The band is the best of the best in their genre and the show they put on tonight was just as hardcore as I remember from when they were at their peak.
Their appreciation for their fans is just as strong, which showed when Kurt and Harald stopped a fight from breaking out in the pit near the end of the show and that Kurt himself ran the merchandise table. He shook every hand that was offered and thanked everyone for coming out. D.R.I. has been on the road for 30 years, and at this rate they'll still be out there thrashing in another 30.